This question really depends on a few key things.
Do you want to spend a big chunk of money?
It’s was news to me quite how expensive a hut in the woods could be. I paid more for the on trail accommodation than I did for anything off trail. My god it was a lot of money.
But when you think about it, this makes sense. It’s really not easy for these places to get anything in, or out. Especially Muir Trail Ranch, where arrival is by foot, on horseback, or in a helicopter! It really feels like a luxury when you’re there. And it’s not as if they’re facing a huge amount of competition.
But ultimately, whatever you spend on on-trail accommodation is going to be a lot more than what you spend wild camping, or at a campsite. So if you’re on a budget, or just don’t fancy spending $180+ per night, it’s probably not for you.
Do you fancy having to be somewhere?
When planning my trip I really liked the idea of having some on-trail stays arranged at key points in the journey. It was nice to have these clear markers (aligned with my resupply plan) to aim for. However, once on the trail it was a mild annoyance. I was just so conscious of having to be somewhere at a certain date. And even though in reality I didn’t have that much flexibility (you can only carry so much food) it did take away a smidgen of the spontaneity.
It was in part due to this that I ditched my last planned stay and resupply at the Mount Williamson Hotel.
I almost ditched my night at Reds Meadow too, as I arrived there a day early. But in the end I decided that a zero day probably was a good idea. And it allowed me to replace my broken stove down in Mammoth.
How much comfort do you really need?
When I originally made my on – trail accommodation plans I had never actually backpacked and I thought that I would really need a night or two in a bed. But I came to love the time I spent in my tent and my evening routine. So whilst I was grateful to have the overnight stops, I was always happy to be back in my tent.
The only thing that I was really ready to say goodbye to, was having to leave the tent late at night to pee and being terrified that a bear was going to bite by bum. I now appreciate a good bathroom for the miracle that it is!
Can you treat yourself in another way?
There are other ways to treat yourself on the trail. You could;
- Mail yourself some bourbon or red wine in a resupply*.
- Pick up an IPA at the Toulome shop*.
- Buy breakfast at the Reds Meadow Diner.
- Hike off-trail to claim your free beer at Vermillion Valley Resort*.
- Pack a yoga mat for a good stretch at the end of the day.
- Download a good book to your iPhone
- Trade your awful trail mix for some delicious dried mango.
- Gaze in wonder at the stars and ponder your good fortune to be in this beautiful place, you lucky bastard!
*I realise these are very alcohol heavy suggestions. But what can I say, I’m English! We love a drink.
Still want to book on-trail accommodation?
Muir Trail Ranch
My number one recommendation would be a night – ideally two – at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I had such a fantastic stay there and cannot recommended it enough. It’s perfectly placed for a zero day in the middle of your hike, and right on the trail, so requires no detour.
I stayed in one of the cheapest hiker huts which was very basic, but felt luxurious after a tent. The stay included three delicious meals a day (set menu), as well as access to the reading room, natural springs and showers. They also provided fresh lemonade throughout the day. Heaven! Their facilities are only available to guests, but open to all is their old school computer with dial up, a small (non-food) shop and postal facilities. As well as their absolutely epic hiker buckets.
Desert at MTR
The only thing that MTR lacks is alcohol, so if you want a drink be sure to ship some out to yourself. Oh, and the washing machine is operated by hand, so perhaps not the most effective clean for dirty hiking gear. But it’s an experience.
To book, visit their website. Do this as far ahead as possible!
Reds Meadow is an amazing little oasis that you will arrive to after about 5-7 days (SoBo). You are able to book huts that range from the pretty basic to the bigger-square-footage-than-my-apartment. I took one of the basic ones, but it had electricity, comfortable beds and a little porch.
The main thing to note about Reds – and what makes it so great for thru hikers – is that you can access all of their facilities as a camper. I loved my first night down in the campsite just as much – if not more – than my stay in the hut. I was able to have a shower, eat at the brilliant diner and peruse the shop. I also used the washing machine and tumble dryer. So, if I were to do it all again, I’d perhaps not book Reds, unless I was really sure of my itinerary, or was able to splash the cash.
Book in advance here
Vermillion Valley Resort
I decided against stopping here, so am not the best authority on it. I didn’t fancy the detour required, and given that it would have been in the middle of my Reds and MTR stay, it didn’t feel necessary. But I heard really good things from other hikers, although online reviews seem mixed. A great thing about it is that you can access most of the facilities as a camper, plus you get a free beer!
Find out more here
Mount Williamson Motel, Independence
I originally planned to stay here as part of my final resupply as they offer a great package to hikers. However, I ended up cancelling as I didn’t want to have to think about where and when I had to be and the big detour was unappealing.
I’m so glad that I decided to do this, as it was incredible to have the second half of my hike completely on the trail. But, I think this would still be a great option if you weren’t able to move as quickly, didn’t want to carry so much food, or fancied a bit of comfort at a welcoming and helpful place.
Find out more and book here.